It had been a long walk and her bladder was complaining. Back in the hotel room Monica hurried into the bathroom. When she wiped herself, she saw a telltale red stain on her panties. Instantly her whole body felt cold and she could feel the blood pounding in her ears. For the briefest of instants she felt a sharp twinge, an echo of remembered pain. Deliberately she forced her eyes away, and looked around the room, speaking out loud the mantra that had gotten her through this moment so many times before, “It’s just your period. It’s just your period. It’s just your period.” No matter how many times she had reviewed in her head that this was normal and expected, the unexpected sight of blood, especially blood from her vagina seemed to take her by surprise.
Monica forced herself to take several deep slow breaths and then clenched her teeth and pulled her pants back up. The sensation of her damp underwear touching her flesh made her skin crawl. She muttered furiously to herself, “It’s normal. It’s okay.” She needed to get some clean clothes out of her suitcase and she could not face David like this without her clothes. Not now. She hurried to her suitcase and got out a new pristine pair of panties and a clean pair of pants. When David took advantage of her vacating the bathroom to use it himself, Monica stood outside the door with her clothes clutched in her hands, nervously shifting from one foot to another.
When David came out he was instantly aware that something was wrong, and he looked at her concerned, “What is the matter?”
Monica tensed and shook her head and tried to push past him into the bathroom. “David, please I just need to deal with this.”
His hand stopped her, “Tell me what’s the matter.”
Monica’s voice was tense and shrill, struggling to control the irrational waves of fear, “It’s nothing. I just started my period. Sometimes I get anxious when I have to deal with the blood. I can do this; I just need to take a shower and change.” She pushed against his hand, “Please, I just need to clean up.”
David stepped to one side, “I am sorry, Pretty Girl, you just seemed upset.”
Monica gently pushed him from the bathroom, “I know. But…” She could not finish the sentence. She pushed the door shut and without thinking clicked the lock. The compulsion to strip and scrub herself clean was becoming overwhelming. She threw her underwear away, careful to not look at them. In the shower she washed herself meticulously, keeping her eyes on the ceiling. From experience she knew that the sight of blood on the white floor of the bathtub could easily push her right over the edge.
Getting out and getting dressed was a complex ritual of painstaking steps designed to insure that she did not have to look too closely. Once she was fully dressed, she got out her new prescription of birth control pills and reread the instructions. They said to take the first pill on her first day of her menstrual cycle and that they should be effective after seven days of taking them. She pushed the first tablet out of its holder and swallowed it down. She gave herself a look in the mirror, “See it’s not all bad.”
David was in the kitchen, putting together a plate of crackers and cheese. When she walked out he turned and looked at her, “Better?” He got out a beer and opened it.
“I’m sorry; I get a little panicky sometimes. It’s not like a flashback; it’s more like being afraid that I might have a flashback. I used to get them bad when I was,” Monica paused and groped for words, “um… first hurt. It’s not so bad now.”
Monica shrugged and her crooked smile slowly lit up her face, “That’s good, because sometimes I sure don’t.”
“Is there anything I can do to help?”
Her smile faded, “I usually stay pretty close to the bathroom and take a lot of showers.” Monica paused and then mumbled, “It should only take about four or five days.” She looked up and took a deep breath, “It’s best if I keep myself distracted, try not to think about too much. I started my pills. I will be baby proof in about a week.”
David held up the plate, “Are you hungry? Would you like a snack?”
Monica grimaced; she had no appetite. While she had lost the full feeling from breakfast, she could not imagine eating anything yet. She picked up one cracker and nibbled on it half-heartedly. “That was such a big breakfast, I am not hungry yet. Are you?”
He shrugged, “A little. I have always had a hollow leg. I took after my Momma’s side of the family, long, lean and always ready to eat. I look pretty much like my granddaddy, and he ate like a horse and lived to be eighty-eight.”
Monica did some math in her head, “Eighty-eight minus fifty-one equals thirty-seven. Thirty-seven plus twenty-four equals sixty-one. That’s like forever.” There was a kind of wonder in her voice.
David almost choked on the cracker in his mouth as he began to laugh. He coughed and took a swallow of his beer. “Pretty Girl, you sound surprised.”
Monica paused, “I guess I am. I just never really thought about it, getting old, having a whole life with you.” A soft happy smile lit up her face, “I really like the sound of that, a whole life.”
David looked a little serious, “Pretty Girl, there are no guarantees in this world. Don’t ever take even a single day for granted. If there was anything I learned from losing Irene, it was that.”
“I know but I have a pretty good feeling about this.”
David’s smile matched hers, “I will trust your intuition then. So we have about thirty-seven years to kill. We need to figure out some hobbies, or stuff to do. What do you like to do? What do you want to do first?”
Monica paused, “I like to watch movies as long as they aren’t violent or bloody. I like to read books. I like to play cards and scrabble. I really used to like to go dancing. I used to like going for hikes, but I don’t like camping. I like natural history museums… um… I don’t know… lots of things.” She looked at David, “What do you like?”
“I like movies too, but probably not the same type you like. I never had much patience for reading unless it was about a case I was working on. I like hunting and fishing. I like playing cards and I used to play scrabble with Irene.” His eyes glinted, “And I can’t wait to get you on a dance floor, Pretty Girl. But I think that my type of dancing may be a little different from yours. Do you know what Zydeco is?”
When Monica looked puzzled and shook her head, he chuckled, “Cajun music, Pretty Girl. You’ve probably heard this one,” and sang to her. His voice was a clear, rich baritone.
Jambalaya and a crawfish pie and file' gumbo
'Cause tonight I’m gonna see my ma cher amio
Pick guitar, fill fruit jar and be gay-o
Son of a gun, we’ll have big fun on the bayou
'Cause tonight I’m gonna see my ma cher amio
Pick guitar, fill fruit jar and be gay-o
Son of a gun, we’ll have big fun on the bayou
Then he pulled her up to stand, held both her hands and began a complex step, step, slide, step and began to sing the same tune but the words were in French,
Jambalaya, des tartes d’ecreuvisse, file gombo
Par a soir moi j’va allez voir ma chere ami-o
Jouer l’guitar, boire de la jogue
Et fair de la musique
Un va avoir un bon temp de sur le bayou.
Monica was giggling and watching his feet as he danced. Tentatively she tried to follow his moves and he smiled broadly, nodded, and continued to hum the tune as he gave her little cues, counting out an eight beat rhythm. Finally he pulled her close and did a little spin and then dipped her low as she squealed in surprise. “We are going to tear up the dance floor, Pretty Girl.”
Monica was still laughing as she leaned against his chest, “David, you have a wonderful voice. I had no idea.”
“Yeah, I was too lazy to learn how to play an instrument so I had to learn to sing. You find out that music is a big part of things down on the bayou; music, dancing, eating, family and god, not necessarily in that order. I sang in the church choir and would fill in up on the stage now and then at dances when I was younger.”
Monica rubbed her face against his chest and murmured in a deliberately low and sexy voice, “You can sing for me any time.”
Monica felt a little thrill when he began to sing softly in her ear, pulling her close and dancing slow.
You are my sunshine, my only sunshine
You make me happy when skies are gray
You'll never know dear, how much I love you
Please don't take my sunshine away
You make me happy when skies are gray
You'll never know dear, how much I love you
Please don't take my sunshine away
Monica melted against him, letting him guide her and sighed, “Oh I like this. I want this all the time.”
David gave her a little tickle and teased, “Got to eat and sleep sometime, Pretty Girl. And we will need to get some music, I can’t sing all the time.”
Monica squirmed but refused to let go of him. Her voice as stubborn, “I like your singing. Why can’t you sing all the time?”
“Because sometimes, hell, a lot of times we are going to be doing this.” Suddenly his mouth was on hers, kissing her with thoroughness that took her breath away. She felt her whole body respond and there was a little pulse and flex of the muscles deep in her core and she could feel a soft surge of moisture flow from her. She tensed in his arms, suddenly rigid and wooden, remembering her period.
David could feel her hesitation, and he pulled back, his eyes searching her face. “Rushing?”
Monica shook her head, “Not really rushing, for a second there I was totally there but I just remembered that I am having my period. It kind of put a damper on things.” She made a little exasperated sigh.
Before he let her go he gave her a little squeeze and stroked his hand down the length of her back. “Don’t worry so much about it, Pretty Girl. It is nature’s way of making sure we slow down and take our time.”
To her surprise, Monica felt a little rush of impatient anger, “It just pisses me off that it has to be happening now.”
David raised a brow at her language, and then chuckled, “I can hear your impatience, Pretty Girl, and I suspect we will both have trouble waiting. But the anticipation will make it all that much sweeter.”
Monica knew that he was right. There was no real way around this. She knew herself well enough to know that there was no way that she could make love to him now, during her period. But somehow the knowledge that there was a barrier, something standing in her way made her feel frustrated. Then she giggled, “Funny now that we can’t that’s all I can think about.”
The corner of David’s mouth twitched, “Well you wanted to be distracted. What do you want to do for dinner? Do you want to figure out something to cook here or to go out again?”
“I would rather stay here.”
“Then you get to eat my cooking.”
David opened a can of pinto beans and pan seared a lean steak. “Funny the thousand things we have to learn about each other. I don’t think I have ever seen you eat steak. How do you like it cooked?”
Monica paused, “I used to like it rare, but now I just don’t like it. I don’t like the way it tastes well done and I can’t stand it bloody.” She frowned, “Sometimes it seems like everything got turned upside down in my life. But go ahead and cook it how you like it. I will microwave it if it is too red. Do we have any ketchup?”
“No ketchup, little girl, but we have lots of salsa. I picked out mild because you said you did not like stuff that was too hot. I figured I could heat it up with some hot sauce. But I have an idea here that will help.” Once the steak was cooked about medium he pulled it out and quickly sliced it quickly in thin strips. Monica flinched and looked away from the knife in his hand, turning her eyes up to his face, consciously pushing away the little prickle of fear. He dropped the pieces back into the pan and poured some salsa over them and let them simmer. “This way it won’t get dry.” He sliced some tomatoes and tore some lettuce up and served the whole thing with a stack of warm steamy corn tortillas. He smiled when Monica got a beer of her own to drink with dinner.
Monica watched him liberally drench his steak and beans in hot sauce and curiously touched the tip of her finger to the lip of the bottle and tasted it. David laughed at her red face and grimace. She followed his lead as he wrapped up some beans and meat in a tortilla and took a big bite. She smiled around her full mouth, and mumbled, “Not bad. In fact, pretty good.”
“Good thing you like my cooking. You are going to be eating it a lot.” He paused looking across the table, his eyes were soft and warm, “…like forever.”
They cleaned up the little kitchenette together, standing close enough to lean against each other as she washed and he dried the dishes. David put the leftovers away in the tiny refrigerator, “This will be good with eggs and grits in the morning.” Monica marveled that he could already be thinking about eating again.
After dinner Monica retired to the bathroom and carefully went through her strange little ritual of replacing her sanitary napkin without actually ever looking at it, keeping her eyes looking anywhere but there. All time repeating her little mantra of, “It’s just your period. This is normal. Breathe.” She wrapped and rewrapped the used napkin in layer after layer of toilet paper and then obsessively washed her hands. Monica hated that she was so sensitive to the sight and smell of blood, that even now when it was all over that she had this revulsion, but she knew why. There had been so much blood when the man had cut her. He had seemed to relish the sensation of blood on his hands, running them through the gore and then holding them up for her to see. At one point he had even reached up and smeared them across her face… “No! Stop it!” Monica banged her hands down hard in the sink, splashing the water up and across the bathroom mirror. She shook her head hard, damn it, she refused to let her mind go there again.
David knocked on the bathroom door, “Monica, Pretty Girl, are you all right?”
Her voice was tight and shrill, “Yes, yes, I am fine.”
She pulled open the bathroom door to find him standing there, looking down at her, the old concern filling his eyes again. “Sorry.”
“Do you want to talk about it?”
“No, I want to forget about it. I am sick and tired of remembering and talking about it.” A tiny wave of grief shook her, “I just get so tired of remembering things.” Monica slipped inside his arms and gave him a fierce hug, squeezing as tight as she could. David wrapped his arms around her tightly and stood holding her until she let go. Her voice was calmer, “Thanks, somehow when you hold me like that it starts to feel possible again.”
“Ever being normal again.” Even saying those words Monica thought how foolish they were, there was no normal, not now, just the patched together pieces of her body and life. All she knew was David was the one thing that kept those pieces from slowly falling apart, disintegrating into fear and sadness. She shook her self, “Do we have any cards?”
“No, Pretty Girl, but we could run out and get some pretty easily.”
“Let’s do that. I think I am getting a little stir crazy here. Every way I turn seems to lead to bad memories tonight. I need to find something to do.”
They ended up at a local grocery store and David bought a pint of chocolate Haagen-Dazs ice cream and a deck of cards. “What kind of card games do you like?”
“Oh I don’t know, hearts and spades are fun but not really for two people. I like gin rummy. I had a friend that taught me Cribbage once and that was fun but I don’t remember how to play that. I never played Pinochle or Bridge but I always thought it would be fun to learn.”
“Gin rummy is a good game. I have never played Cribbage. I will teach you Bourre someday. It’s a game we play in Louisiana but like hearts and spades it is not really fun with just two.”
As they sat at the little kitchen table and played cards, they took turns eating the ice cream out of the carton, sharing the same spoon. David told her about Bourre, a game that his family had played together for hours at a time when he had visited at his grandparent’s ranch. “We will need to get some dominos too. Do you like chess?”
Monica frowned, “Not really. I would always get distracted. I don’t like having to think that much.” They played Gin Rummy until it was late. Monica found out quickly that she had to be very careful playing with David. He was very good at seeing through her strategies and she found that she had to work at keeping a ‘poker face’ when she was close to filling her hand. He seemed to have a sixth sense on what she was collecting. When she protested that he must be cheating, he had laughed, “Pretty Girl, your eyes light up every time you get something you want. Don’t ever play poker, you will lose your shirt.”
“Maybe we should play strip poker.”
David raised an eyebrow, “That sounds like a girl who is looking to lose.”
“Actually it sounds like a win, win situation to me.”
At bedtime Monica changed into her white nightgown and slipped into the bed next to David. She snuggled up to him, resting her head on his shoulder and fell asleep quickly, but she did not sleep very well. Each time any blood would leak from her, she could feel it and it would pull her awake, her hand reaching down, pressing the napkin up against her crotch, fearful of having a mess to deal with in the morning. She lay half awake toying with the idea of trying to use tampons. For months after her attack, between surgeries, it had been totally impossible to contemplate inserting anything into herself. She had settled for the pads but that meant enduring that telltale sensation of oozing fluid that kept intruding into her consciousness.
Monica woke feeling dull and achy. She went into the bathroom and took a shower, once more going through her careful rituals to minimize the sight or smell of blood. Once dressed, she curled up on the couch wrapped in a blanket. When David offered to cook her something for breakfast, she just asked for some toast.
“Don’t you feel good?”
“I just didn’t sleep very well and having my period makes me feel heavy and achy sometimes. I think I would just like to nap and watch the TV for while.” Monica watched with tired eyes as David pulled on some sweats and running shoes. “Where are you going?”
“Just going for a run, there are physical fitness requirements to being an agent and I got into the habit of running to keep in shape for them.” He gave her a grin, “I sort of got out my routine the last few months, but I think if I am going to live to be eight-eight I better get back into better habits. Maybe later you will feel like going shopping for some dresses.”
Monica yawned, “Dresses?”
“Yes, for church tomorrow. You asked if you could get a dress.”
“Oh yeah, I forgot.”
David ruffled her hair and leaned down and kissed her on the forehead, “You sure you feel okay?”
“Yeah I will be fine; I just feel kind of low energy.”
Monica was asleep in front of the television when David came back in. He paused and looked down at the tiny fragile woman that was his new wife. He resisted the impulse to touch her, remembering the last time he tried to wake her. It seemed like she lived continually in the shadow of fear. He wanted nothing more than to somehow stand between her and her torment but he felt so powerless to help her. He watched as she avoided anything that could threaten her delicate balance. He told himself that she had come far in her recovery. It had been little more than a year since her attack. That she had a core of resilient strength that had not failed her yet.
Monica stirred and opened her eyes, a soft smile of greeting warmed her face as she stretched, “Hi, did you have a good run?”
David dropped to his knees beside the couch and slipped his arms around her, blanket and all, and pulled her tight against him. “Sometimes I wish I could do something more to help you.”
Monica’s voice was sleepy and surprised, “Oh David, you do help me. Just knowing you are here, knowing you love me. It makes it all possible. Instead of wondering how I can make it through it all, I know now that I have you to hold me, to protect me from getting lost. It’s funny, when Sam Card escaped, when Happy got the blood on her feet; it was like everything turned off inside my head. But there was one thing I knew I had to do, I had to find you. The only thing left inside me was the knowledge that if I found you that everything would get fixed.”
“I just worry about you sometimes.”
“I know. I can see it in your eyes, you watch me, watch out for me. It’s one of the things that helps me, knowing you are there wanting to help.” Monica giggled, “My champion.” She stiffened a little in his arms, “I need to go to the bathroom.”
To her surprise he stood up, cradling her in his arms and carried her across the room and into the bathroom. He gently put her down on her feet and unwrapped the blanket. Monica looked nervous, “David, I can’t deal with this with you here. It’s hard enough as it is.”
“I did not expect you to, Pretty Girl. I was just keeping my arms around you as long as possible. I will leave you now, my lady.” He bowed low and backed out of the bathroom. Monica was giggling so much that she did not even have a chance to feel apprehensive.
When Monica came out he was standing in his underwear. She paused and eyed him up and down, and whistled. “Hey there, big boy.”
“I was just going to get a shower.”
Monica giggled and nodded, “Go right ahead, I will wait out here for you to come back out.”
He was wearing a towel when he came out of the bathroom and shot her a shy look as he went to his suit case and got out a clean pair of boxers. Monica sat on the edge of the bed watching him curiously, her cheeks almost as red as his. He dropped the towel and leaned over to pull them on. Monica peeked at him, he was lean with brown arms and neck, the rest of him pale and untanned; he had a soft sprinkling of brown hair on his chest and belly. His penis was soft and small, nestled neatly in a patch of brown hair. As he stood up, he caught her eye and raised a brow, “Like what you see?”
“Can’t blame a girl for being curious, and yes, I do like what I see.”
He stood up and brought his arms up in an exaggerated body builders pose. Monica looked at him, a wide smile on her face. He was not especially muscular, his arms and legs seeming almost a little too long and thin but he had nice wide shoulders and a flat belly. She hooted and clapped.
David laughed and shook his head, “Never thought I would ever be in this position.”
“Putting on a show for your wife?”
“Hell, I never thought I would have a wife, much less be putting on a show.”
Monica laughed, “I can’t help it if you are such a hunk, and you can cook. I also have a clear memory of you saying something about taking me shopping for some new dresses. I am a very lucky girl. I am very much at risk of getting very spoiled.”
David pulled on a clean pair of jeans, shirt and commented, “Well this is my last clean pair of pants, so one of us needs to do some laundry sometime today.”
Monica jumped up, “Well I may not know how to cook but I can run a washing machine. Let’s go shopping and then I will do some laundry after we get back.”
“Sounds like a plan. Let’s plan on grabbing a pizza while we are out.”
Monica paused and frowned, “Could we um… come back to the hotel between shopping and pizza? It’s just easier to change my pad here.” She took a breath, “I just need to be somewhere familiar and safe to do it. I am sorry; I know I am being kind of crazy about this. It just was so traumatic right after my attack that I have developed all these precautions. I have to do all of it a certain way to make sure that I don’t have to look or touch, um… things.”
“Of course, we don’t even have to go dress shopping if you need to stay here.”
“No, it will be fine to go shopping. I just don’t want to be out too long.” She let out an exaggerated sigh, “I feel like such a nut case sometimes.”
“Pretty Girl, you have survived a pretty terrible thing. I am continually impressed at how good you do. If you have developed some certain habits in order to manage, that is okay, in fact it is great. All I need is for you to tell me what you need and we will make it work.” He leaned down and pulled on his boots, “And that being said, you let me know when you are ready to go and we will head out.” He paused and then grinned and drawled in a soft silly voice, “I saw the cutest little dress shop on the main street of town.”
Monica could not help but giggle at his silly tone. “Thanks, sometimes I really do feel crazy. I am ready to go, so let’s do it.”
David held her coat up for her to slip her arms into, “Not crazy, Pretty Girl. Just surviving the best way you can.”